Dozens of passengers are stranded in Sokoto, capital of Sokoto State, and many more will find out their fate on Tuesday and on Wednesday, after Aero Contractors abruptly cancelled all its flights to Lagos via Abuja from Sunday to Wednesday “due to operational reasons”.

Although the airline claims it sent out notifications of cancellation to passengers, four passengers who were all scheduled to travel on Monday told SaharaReporters they never got any cancellation notice.

They're doing this to us because we're Nigerians

Abubakar Skudu, who was scheduled to travel to Lagos on Tuesday complained bitterly, saying: “They did not text me anything about the cancellation of the flight. Now I’m at the airport, and there is no good response… even to attend to me well as a customer, no good response. 

“They disorganised all my schedule… because I have to be in Lagos today. I work at the Seme Border; I finished my annual leave and I was supposed to resume tomorrow, but Aero disappointed me. I’m not happy with all they did to me.

“And there is no good response. Is it because we are Nigerians and they think we don’t have any action to take? Is that why they are doing this to us? This Aero Contractors, they do this all the time… cancelling flights without notifying the customer. Look at how they disappointed us.

“There is no flight in Sokoto, to Lagos. There’s no flight to Abuja. They cancelled all routines for Sokoto-Abuja-Lagos. I don’t know what to do. I want to see if I can go to Abuja by road, but it is late already. Maybe I’ll go to Abuja by road tomorrow, then pick a flight to Lagos.

He lamented that aside the disruption to his plans, there was no chance anytime soon that passengers would get their refund anytime soon.

“They said they are waiting for bank to refund our money. But since they don’t have our account details and everything, how are we going to collect our money? They just used their utterances to make you upset,” he said.

Complaining to regulatory agencies is nothing

Asked if he would lodge a complaint with relevant regulatory agencies, such as Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), he said: “The thing with all these regulatory agencies is that complaining to them is like complaining to nobody. This is Nigeria; the time you complain is when they will even hurt you. If you call them on phone, they won’t attend to you. Even if you go there physically, they will just keep dribbling you around. Once you’re Nigerian, there’s no action they would take. 

“Even if you take them to court, what are they going to do for you? Nothing! This is because a Nigerian does not have right to fight for his right. Even all these human rights people and all those activists, they are just politicians; they are using politics on people. They’re not doing anything to the people. So we don’t have any alternative than to leave them. If they call us to come, we will come, if they don’t, we will leave them — because we don’t have anything to do. You see that I was talking to her [an Aero official] and she was typing away on the computer and watching football. They are not even empathizing with the customers, which means we’re not respected. I was even talking to her and she was ignoring me, watching football.”

Mrs Winifred Okafor, who was also supposed to travel with Aero from Sokoto to Lagos on Monday, didn’t receive any message of flight cancellation as well.

“That was what I was telling them when you came in… that I didn’t receive any message concerning their cancellation,” she told SaharaReporters.

“I am just confused. Maybe I will go by road tomorrow because I have an appointment to meet up with in Abuja. I was trying to see if I could fly with Arik tomorrow but they said the flight is fully booked. I don’t even know whether they have a flight on Wednesday. 

“Maybe I’ll go by road but the problem is I hope I’m fit medically for that kind of journey; I’m told it’s like eight to nine hours. I had a problem in my thoracic region, and there was a time I was wearing a collar to keep me upright. Since I removed the collar, I have been careful not to hurt it. That’s why I travel by air rather than by road most times, no matter how short the distance is. If I sit in a car for one hour, I’ll need to stretch myself.”

All I ask for is empathy

Asked about what compensation she expected from the airline, Mrs Okafor said it was empathy more or less — empathy over cash.

“Compensation? You see, I would just want them to show a little bit of concern by saying ‘okay, take N5,000 to cushion your hotel bill’. We know that’s not enough to secure hotel accommodation, but it at least would show they care. I’d prefer that they show some form of concern no matter how small it is,” she said.

“It’s just painful, because when international flights have issues, the airline just moves the passengers to hotels. They take care of the passengers’ feeding, do everything to make them comfortable. They will even put them in five to seven-star hotels just to make sure their passengers are comfortable. But here, they care less; anything you like, you people should do; that’s the painful part of it.”

Another passenger, who asked not to be named to avoid being blacklisted by the airline since she is based in Sokoto and makes frequent trips to Lagos, was shell-shocked when she got to the Sultan Abubakar III International Airport for check-in only to be told there was no flight out of Sokoto on Monday, and that Aero wouldn’t fly until Thursday. The young lady, who runs a bead-making business, said she needed to urgently deliver some beads to her client in Lagos.

“This is such a huge shock,” she told SaharaReporters. “I have stuff I need to urgently deliver to my clients; this is sad. And it is sad because they didn’t notify me. If they did, I could have gone to Kebbi for an alternate flight to Lagos. This is just not fair.”

The annoying thing is that Aero officials were nonchalant

A fourth passenger whom Aero scheduled to travel from Sokoto to Lagos admitted that he received a notice of cancellation at 8:55pm on Saturday for a Sunday afternoon flight, but he said the notice was “absolutely useless” as it came at a time when it was too late for him to make alternate plans.

“Aero messaged me at 8:55pm and left me a number to call; I called that number for over two hours and there was no answer. Can you beat that?

“I tried to book another flight but it was too late to get a flight to Lagos either from Kebbi or Sokoto. Throughout Monday, there is no single flight out of Sokoto. Aero won’t fly until Thursday; the annoying thing is that the Arik flight for Tuesday will first leave here at 12;35pm to dump us at the Abuja airport, then leave for Lagos at 5:25pm, which may not even happen until 7:25 or 8:25pm. In short, we’ll be travelling by air for seven to eight hours; seven to eight hours for a local flight! Can you calculate the man hour loss?

“The most annoying thing is that the airline officials were nonchalant; one man didn’t even bat an eyelid as we were complaining, a fair-complexioned woman was watching World Cup highlights on TV as we were expressing our frustrations, a third official, male, was most concerned about all the calls I was making; he was asking me why I was ‘calling, calling, calling’ after they had told me to lodge a complaint online or physically when I eventually arrive Lagos. I have spent extra cash on two nights of hotel accommodation and feeding; I have missed three important meetings. All these due to no fault of mine. These airlines do this all the time because they get away with this crass irresponsibility every time.”

When SaharaReporters called the Head of Ground Operations at Aero, who was identified as “Mr. Chima”, he refrained from talking and then ended the call abruptly.

“I am not the Commercial Manager. Who gave you my number? I am not the Commercial Manager.”

Asked to send the contact details of the Commercial Manager so that Aero Contractors’ side to the story could be obtained, he said: “Ask from that same person who gave you my number.” Then he ended the call.

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